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Cat Deworming - How to Prevent, Treat & Diagnose Cat Parasites


What are intestinal parasites?

Well, it's pretty gross stuff. Intestinal parasites are typically little worms that live in your cat's stomach or intestines, which are the tubes that go from the stomach to the colon. The most common types of parasites that we see in cats, at least in terms of intestinal parasites, are roundworms and hookworms. We'll occasionally see whipworms and tapeworms in cats, but they all have a string-like appearance. Some are bigger, some are smaller, but they're quite gross and something we don't want hanging around in our kitties across the board.


Dr. Menolly Cote
Freeport Veterinary Hospital

How do intestinal parasites impact the health and wellbeing of your cat?

If you think if you had something hanging out, stealing your groceries every time you had a meal, you're not going to have a balanced diet, and it's going to be much harder to maintain health and weight. And that's what parasites do inside of us. Intestinal parasites like this steal nutrients from us, but they also cause irritation and inflammation in the intestines, which can cause bleeding, pain, and bloating. In some severe cases, they can also cause an intestinal blockage.

What preventative measures can be taken to ensure that my cat doesn't get worms or other parasites?

The best thing that you can do is use a regular preventative each month. My favorite product for this is Revolution Plus, a topical medication that is applied to the skin on the back of your cat's neck. This product not only deworms them each month, it actually protects against heartworm disease, fleas, and ticks, as well as some of the mange mites and ear mites. It's a fantastic, safe product. And that monthly application is probably the best thing you can do to maintain a worm-free situation for your cat. Other options include deworming several times a year. We have another product for that, which is a topical as well as a liquid. Regular deworming is the best way to go, though, as well as monitoring a stool sample one to two times a year.

What are some signs and symptoms of intestinal parasites in your cat?

One of the crazy things is sometimes the cat looks and feels totally fine if they have a low parasite burden. And that's where regular stool screenings with our fecal tests are essential because it allows us to catch those parasites before they start to cause a problem, which is always the ideal situation, as we want to prevent problems. Another aspect in preventing issues would be to use a topical or oral dewormer regularly. Again, that's where Revolution Plus would come in, as we're protecting against fleas and ticks—we can deworm monthly and not have to worry about it.

Can you see worms in your cat's stools?

You can sometimes, but not always. Many times, there are no outward signs of these intestinal parasites until it becomes a problem. If things get bad enough, some cats vomit up worms, which is super gross because they're usually still alive and wriggling around. It's not a situation you want to get yourself into. Another thing that you may find is rice-sized, little white things around your cat's anus, which are actually small egg packets from tapeworms. If you see little white debris around your cat's anus or in the litter box, that could indicate tapeworms. Otherwise, you may see string-like worms in vomit or stool, but we want to diagnose it way before that happens.

How will a veterinarian diagnose intestinal parasites in your cat?

We can diagnose it visually if things are coming out at either end, but most of the time, we ask you to bring in a stool sample one or two times a year that we then send off to the lab. And they not only look for eggs in the stool sample itself, but there's also technology out now that allows us to test the DNA material of several types of worms. This means we can catch it even before these little critters have sent egg packets out into the world. So we're getting better and better technology to act more quickly and prevent more issues.

What are some possible conditions caused by intestinal parasites and what are the treatments for those conditions?

Internal parasites may cause vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, and bloating. Some cats don't show symptoms of pain or discomfort until they're not feeling well. They're not only a predator, but they're also a prey animal, so cats are good at hiding discomfort. However, things you might notice are if they're sitting a little more hunched, they're not as interactive as they used to be. Those could be indications that they're just not feeling well. Other things could be evidence of bleeding in the intestinal tract, which most often would be associated with the change in their stool. It would start to look much darker. Sometimes we'll even have a tarry appearance in really severe cases. Intestinal parasites can cause bleeding and ulcerations, which would sometimes show up as blood, but sometimes will just show up as pain. And then also, they can cause obstructions in the intestines, which vomiting could indicate.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of intestinal parasites so important?

Mostly because of all the things we talked about. Parasites are gross, cause problems, and are contagious to people (primarily roundworms and hookworms). Tapeworms are not as much of an issue, but if your pet has this, they could give it to you. I think that's reason enough to be proactive about this, but we also want to keep our pets as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Preventative measures, regular stool samples, and regular deworming can go a long way towards keeping your pet healthy for a long time.

When should my cat see a veterinarian for deworming?

I like to see cats a minimum of once a year when they're young and, as they get older in the seven to eight range, I like to see them twice a year. And every time we see them for their annual visit or by annual visit, I like to check a stool sample. For indoor kitties, once a year is probably adequate, but for cats that are going outside—unless you're deworming every month with a product like Revolution Plus then—t's a good idea to check a stool sample twice a year at a minimum.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (207) 865-3673, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Deworming - FAQs


Dr. Menolly Cote
Freeport Veterinary Hospital

What are intestinal parasites?

Intestinal parasites are anything that is living in the intestines of your cats or other animals that are not supposed to be there. Our intestines have a lot of what we call commensal bacteria, meaning bacteria that live with us, don't do us harm and help us digest our food. A parasite would be in the intestines or in the intestinal tract that is causing harm to its host and, in this case, our kitty cat.

How does my cat get worms?

There are several different ways your cat can get worms, depending on the type of worm. Roundworms and hookworms are ubiquitous in the environment. You can find them pretty much anywhere. They're very hardy, so their eggs can last a very long time in the environment. You can get exposed simply by walking around or having exposure to dirt that may come in on your shoes as a potential area. Hunting can put your cat at risk because if they eat a mouse or some other creature infected with these parasites, they could also become infected. And then, with kittens, we can see the transmission of roundworms and hookworms through the placenta and the milk. Regular deworming of kittens is essential. And then we have tapeworms, which are a slightly different group. Cats get tapeworms or the most common tapeworm that we see, through ingestion of a flea. For example, if your cat has fleas and then is grooming and eats a flea accidentally, they could become infected with tapeworms that way.

Are worms painful to cats?

They can be. One or two worms may never cause an obvious issue, but as the worms reproduce and attach onto the intestinal lining, that can be painful. Worms can cause ulcerations, bleeding, bloating, and those sorts of things. It can, over time, cause a lot of discomfort.

Are worms visible in my cat's stool and, if so, what do they look like?

They can be sometimes. It typically takes a while for worms to become visible because you'd have to have enough that they're starting to kind of run out of room and need to pass through. Roundworms tend to look more like spaghetti. Hookworms look like short little rice noodles, so they're very thin. Both of them are white. In the case of tapeworms, we primarily only see the egg sacs come out, which are these little segments that look like small pieces of rice. You may find dried worms on your cats around their anus or their fur or even in the litter box. But you may not ever see an issue, and that's why regular stool sample checks are essential.

What are the signs my cat has worms?

You will not have any signs for quite a long time. Cats are good at hiding when they have a problem, so they may become quite ill before they ever give you a real indication of a problem. Some subtle signs could be that cats are less interactive. They may have a hunched appearance when they're sitting like they're not 100% comfortable. Vomiting or diarrhea can be an issue. But really, the best way to do this is to figure it out before it becomes a problem. We're huge on preventative care here at Freeport Vet, so we want to find this before it causes your cat problems. And that's why we recommend regular stool sample checks as well as regular deworming.

How common are worms in cats?

They're quite common. It's more common in cats that go outside because they have a higher exposure risk, but we see indoor-only cats with worms because of some of the reasons we talked about before—the potential exposure to dirt on your shoes. Up here in Maine, we have many old houses, and little mice can find their way in. Thankfully, cats are usually pretty good at catching those mice before they cause a problem, but with that also comes potential exposure to parasites.

How long can worms last inside my cat?

I don't know that I could tell you how long one worm on its own would last. I'm sure there is a parasitologist that's shaking their head at me because I don't remember that anymore. But really, they continue to reproduce over time. You're probably not going to have one worm that dies off and never becomes an issue. You're going to have this worm that, generation after generation, is reproducing and continuing to cause problems, not only for your cat but also in the environment your cat is in. They're going to be spreading eggs and potential intestinal parasites to everybody around, including us and other pets.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (207) 865-3673, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Deworming - FAQs 2


Dr. Menolly Cote
Freeport Veterinary Hospital

Can all intestinal parasites be prevented?

That's a tough question. Yes and no. For the most part, if we are cautious about our deworming protocols and exposure, then I would say we can prevent it in almost all cases. That being said, cats are cats. They get into things. They don't always follow the rules. And so there are going to be situations where they catch a mouse that we're not aware of or drink out of something outside that we're not aware of, and they could come up with intestinal parasites.

How does my cat get intestinal parasites?

The most common types of parasites - roundworms and hookworms - are pretty ubiquitous in the environment. You can find them almost anywhere. And their eggs are super hardy. There have actually been a couple of crazy people that have seeded yards with roundworm eggs and then used a flamethrower to completely destroy the yard, and the roundworm eggs were still viable at that point, so that gives you an idea of how hardy they are. You can find them everywhere. Walking around outside or even being exposed to the dirt on your shoes can cause potential exposure to these sorts of parasites.

Other worms, like tapeworms, are only transmitted through flea infestations. When your cat is grooming themselves and ingests a flea that has tapeworm larvae, that's how that they would potentially become infected there. Other less common intestinal parasites like Giardia or coccidia are typically transmitted pet to pet or through contaminated water sources. And one thing to think about with kittens specifically is that hookworms and roundworms can be passed through the placenta while they're in the womb or can even be transmitted through milk. That's why it's vital to do regular deworming of queens as well as kittens.

Can my indoor cats still get intestinal parasites?

They can because fleas get in the house. They can potentially get tapeworms from getting fleas. But just like I said earlier, the dirt on your shoes from coming inside could bring in roundworm or hookworm eggs that could then expose your cat.

What can I do to prevent tapeworm?

The best thing to do to prevent tapeworm is to prevent fleas. Even for indoor cats, I recommend a regular topical application of a product like Revolution Plus. And the nice thing about Revolution Plus is it protects against fleas and ticks and therefore prevents flea infestations. But it also deworms for at least roundworms and hookworms each month, which will keep us at a good baseline.

Is there medication to prevent my cat from getting intestinal parasites?

So there's no true prevention. In a lot of ways, there's no one way just to say, "My cat's never going to get parasites." But regular deworming can prevent them from becoming a problem.

How can I keep my cat from passing on intestinal parasites to other pets in the household?

Once you suspect that your cat has intestinal parasites, isolate them so that they're not sharing a litter box because cats sharing litter boxes are potentially exposed. And if you have a dog like mine that likes to check out the litter box for some afternoon snacks, then they could be exposed there too. Once we have diagnosed worms and have gotten the deworming in place, you would still want to maintain that separation for at least a few days. And if you have cats that have been sharing a litter box in the household that have been diagnosed with roundworms or hookworms, it's not a bad idea to deworm all the pets in the home to be safe.

Can any intestinal parasite be passed on to people?

Unfortunately, yeah. Roundworms and hookworms are what we call zoonotic, meaning that they are passable to humans. This is typically through what we call the fecal-oral route, which means you get some sort of fecal particles on your hands, perhaps when you're cleaning the litter box or even petting your cat. And then you forget to wash your hands before you have a snack or pull a piece of cat hair out of your mouth; you could potentially transfer roundworm or hookworm eggs into your mouth and, therefore, your body, as gross as that is.

Other potentials that are less common are that hookworms in the environment can migrate through small cuts in your skin in your feet and can start to migrate through your body that way. It's not super common, especially in our environment where it's really cold a lot of the year, but it can happen. And then the less common intestinal parasites like coccidia and Giardia are also contagious to people. Thankfully, we don't see those as much in cats, but we'd always want to maintain good hygiene whenever there are concerns with intestinal parasites.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (207) 865-3673, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

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